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Jan 16

Winter Anime 2016 First Episode Impressions – Part 3

"Tail" end of the season dohoho

“Tail” end of the season dohoho

And so here we are. The final batch. Everything that aired between January 10th and January 15th, with some Fairy Tail added in for good measure. Joining the shōnen I love to hate in this final batch of fourteen series we have a couple of anime in a vidja game with Konosuba and Grimgar, an anime based upon vidja games in Schwarzesmarken (Muv Luv), a pair of romance shows, and current seinen darling, Ajin. Oh, and my least favourite show to review in these first episode barrages is in there too. Which could it be? If only there was some convenient button to open the rest of the article so you could find out…

Fairy Tail Zero

Oh my god Fairy Tail. People who know me know there are few shōnens out there I like less than Mashima’s runaway success, partly because he’s still using the same decades old character designs, partly because his comedic sense is awful, and partly because he doesn’t have the ability to write a good story like, say, One Piece’s Eiichiro Oda, which FT tries to emulate so much. And I don’t even like One Piece.

After an opening segment with Natsu and Happy journeying to the island where Fairy Tail was born, the narrator tells us it’s time to wind back the clock and tell the story of Fairy Tail’s origins, setting up the new opening, which I quite liked (and pacing wise it was the perfect time to show it). So far, so acceptable.

We see Mavis, a 6-year-old who has been treated like absolute shit by guild Red Lizard ever since her mother and father died, and has a bad case of Stockholm Syndrome, but you also get to see how hard-working, intelligent and resilient she is. Or to use another phrase, cliché boring anime hero. Fast forwarding a bit, the guild Blue Skull invade and slaughter the entire guild while she’s away napping, with Mavis only able to save Zera, another 6-year-old girl and the guild leader’s daughter, who awed by Mavis’ kindness, asks to be her friend. Then dies randomly.

Except she doesn’t as you see her in the credits and next episode sequence and man all my disdain of Mashima came rushing back in one go. The episode ends with a seven year timeskip (don’t ask how they survived, they just did) and a few people whom Fairy Tail fans will recognise, while I just went “okay, cool”, arriving on the island.

The animation’s serviceable, the opening and ending song pretty solid, and the story didn’t totally rely on bullshit humour for once, but it still overexaggerates and doesn’t play out well. I don’t particularly care for Mavis or Zera’s plight, though it didn’t outright offend me like some of FT has. Which is about the best thing I can say for Fairy Tail Zero.

UNLIKELY

Ooyasan wa Shishunki!

A short! 2 minutes at that, making it one of the shortest shows this season, bar the 15 second thing. So of course 30 seconds is the opening song (bland J-pop). Ready for the joke? The landlord… is a middle school girl! Hahahahahahahaha okay we’re done here.

The animation is bland, the lead guy predictably wants to bone the girl, and all the other cast members appear to be female too… Yeah, I’ve got nothing positive to say here.

Instead let me tell you the best joke this show has. The landlord’s name? Chie Satonaka. Yes, she has the exact same name as Persona 4’s badass kung fu heroine. Okay, now we really are done here, next!

DROPPED

Dimension W

Hmmm, I made a lot of notes on this. And I don’t mean me shitting on it constantly, but instead loving the attention to detail this show had. From the artstyle of the modern electrical city compared to the dirty old slums, from the cool music choices to the naming conventions, this show committed to what it was, and was all the better for it.

So what was it. Humanity recently discovered Dimension W, which (somehow) has infinite energy. Humans being ingenious buggers, we tapped into it, creating a World System using coils that essentially means we have access to as much energy as we could ever need. Of course, official coils are too weak for some, so there’s illegal coils too which abuse said energy. As much as you can abuse an infinite resource.

The story revolves around recovery agent Mabuchi Kyouma, who essentially assassinates people with needles (think of Darker than Black’s lead and you’re halfway there), and Mira, an extremely humanoid robot, originally created by Professor Yurizaki (who also invented the whole World System to begin with).

You see scuffles between them all and the police (who are pretty much controlled by the energy corporations), and the fights do look pretty sweet. There’s even a quick robot fight, but… that seemed more like a one-off than a part of the main show.

There are some silly moments, like mobsters labelling illegal coils so everyone will know they’re illegal (truly genius), but the show executes everything with such poise and refuses to surrender itself to anime tropes (99% of the time, anyway), and with the energy centric story providing an interesting parallel to the current world, the whole thing is enthralling. This could well be the surprise hit of the season, but we shall see.

KEEPER

Hai to Gensou no Grimgar

Ah, the video game reality show of the season, because damn son we gotta milk that Sword Art train for all it’s worth. Hm, maybe that’s harsh, as Grimgar certainly makes some interesting choices. The watercolour backgrounds and environments looked great, I enjoyed the mostly neat character designs which kept things simple and realistic (well, except for one minor fanservice character), and some of the simple audio playing in the background did far more than a more complex score ever could.

The problem is our leading party of six are just, well, a bit bland. Totally incapable of killing a goblin, all we really learn is one’s got anxiety, one’s a bit of a loudmouth, and one’s a good cook. They all perform various MMORPG class roles, from Hunter to Priest, though you only see them fight for literally the first minute.

The rest of the screentime establishes the MMO world rules around them, and how they can only remember the few days since they arrived, and keep saying words like game and cell phone without knowing what they mean. Oh gee I wonder why.

Perhaps the weirdest choice though is that the episode just… ends. There’s no resolution or anything, it just points out we’re reaching the point where if they don’t get it together, they’re all gonna die, and… then it ends. No desperate conflict or anything. It’s both refreshingly different and weirdly anti-climatic.

I feel a little bad for the rating you can see below, as this show does plenty of things right, and champions the “less is more” ideal, but without anything really unique or intriguing to latch onto, it just feels too lightweight. For all its problems, SAO nailed the premise, and that’s something none of its imitators have managed yet.

UNLIKELY

Schwarzesmarken

Man I really hope this isn’t indicative of the quality of Muv Luv, because… yeah. This show has no problem whatsoever with vomiting German terms and text at you at an alarming rate, giving you no time to register pretty much anything. I only finished watching it five minutes ago, and I can’t remember a single characters name, despite their being an entire squadron of them. And this is before all the other terms the show uses.

You’ve also got the worst acronym of all time which leads to the alien enemy being called the BETA. Random blobs with varying appendages, they’re not exactly inspired designs, and neither are the bland mechs, begging the question of why only one squadron has a brilliant success record in this war.

In an attempt to invest you, we see one guy’s (I assume the lead male) dickish actions cost the life of one of the squadron, but as neither her character nor anybodies unit has been established, the moment completely fizzles. To make up for his idiocy, he’s then forced to save another girl, who gives him flashbacks to his childhood and yet more forced trauma to try and invest you in people. It fails.

That’s kinda the theme of the show really, trying and failing. The fight against the aliens is animated well enough, and it does a good job of making a snowstorm look cool, but when you don’t care about anyone involved, it’s kinda meaningless. Maybe Muv Luv fans who already know who’s who and what’s what will find pros where I found cons, but to an outsider like me, this was just one giant mess.

DROPPED

Yami Shibai Third Season

I think last time I wrote about Yami Shibai a while ago, I thought it was stylistically intriguing, but didn’t really understand how to write a satisfying finish to its weird little story. And sure enough, after 4 and a half minutes of this short, it’s the same story.

The ghost story this time involves a kid going into an old-timey bathhouse, while a girl on the other side asks him to throw over stuff. It starts innocently with soap and buckets, but as it goes on she demands crazier items, and even parts of his body. Why the kids response isn’t “I’m gonna leave” and is instead “better wash my hair quick” is beyond me, but sure enough the hideous monster on the other side leans over and oh man now he’s dead.

Except she looks more weird than scary, and the conclusion is both so obvious and so avoidable, you can’t help but laugh. And seeing as storytelling is pretty much a show like this’ raison d’être, I just can’t recommend it. Sorry.

DROPPED

Nijiiro Days

It was a random thought, but I’d been pondering for a while how I’d react to a romance anime, as it’s been a bit since I watched one (last time was probably my AotY 2013, White Album 2). Then along comes Rainbow Days to answer the question. Turns out the answer is “it’s alright”. One Christmas, our lead guy, down on his luck after being dumped, is approached by a girl dressed up as Santa handing out tissues. Thinking she looks cold, and kinda smitten, he gives her his scarf.

Flash forward to him being back in school, and he sees the girl again, wearing that same scarf. At this point we meet his three besties, who all give him varying forms of encouragement and advice as he tries to figure out who she is and get to know her a little better. Cue the romcom hijinks.

It’s not amazingly animated, it’s not got amazing music, and none of the characters are particularly deep, but it tells its romcom story well enough, and the ending hints at some intriguing relationships down the line. I don’t think this is one for me, but genre fans will probably get a kick out of it. And at only 13 minutes an episode, it feels quite fresh and to the point too, which is always great.

UNLIKELY

Akagami no Shirayukihime Second Season

Oh man, now I feel all warm and fuzzy. And a little weird, as I didn’t expect shifting from romcom Rainbow Days to the more straight romance Snow White with the Red Hair, forgoing said comedy for a touch of ye olde fantasy instead, would result in me being utterly enraptured. I genuinely didn’t expect this to be a show that’d pass, but that is the point of this system.

Even weirder is that it’s the second half of a split-cour I’ve not seen the first episode of winning me over. Our lead character, Shiroyuki, is a hard-working and earnest girl, who’s only real notable characteristic is her red hair (which from what I gather is ultra rare in this world). Then there’s Prince Zen, who’s totally smitten with her to the extent of overprotectiveness, but it comes off in a really cute manner.

Yeah, I don’t know what to tell you. The show uses the odd flashback to establish past story beats, while also setting up new threads for this second half, without confusing new viewers like myself. It also introduces you to the cast smoothly and accomplishes a lot in the runtime without ever feeling rushed. So… yeah, despite the relative simplicity of it all, I was kinda enthralled. It’s not like it even has standout animation or audio choices, it just… feels good. Puts a smile on your face. And sometimes, that’s all it takes.

KEEPER

Teekyuu 7

Ugh.

I’m not sure if I can be fucked with writing things about this show now, as I’ve been doing it for years. It’s pretty much everything I hate about anime humour rolled into one concentrated burst. Lolrandom, overexaggerated, mile a minute shit tier bollocking pile of wankery.

SEVEN FUCKING SEASONS. Like, who the fuck is funding this? Is it successful? Does it sell a lot of merch? DVDs? Other stuff? I’m almost curious. How does something this shit last so long. I know it’s not like 2 minute crappily animated stuff needs a big budget, but SEVEN. FUCKING. SEASONS.

FUCK OFF.

DROPPED FOREVER INTO THE FUCKING SUN. FUCK.

Mahou Shoujo Nante Mou Ii Desu Kara

Roughly meaning I’ve Had Enough Of Being A Magical Girl. At just 4 minutes runtime, I was getting a bit worried when 80 seconds in nothing had happened outside of “hi friends, let’s go walking”. But then Yuzuka, our lead, finds Miton in the garbage, fulfilling the “random pet thing” that all magical girl shows have. Really, why is that.

Anyway, he gives her powers, and her costume is a swimsuit because it’s what “suits her most”. Needless to say, she’s pissed, and after transforming back, slaps the crap outta him in the only funny moment of the entire show. At least it didn’t have an opening or ending eating up valuable time, but again, it’s a one joke wonder, and I ain’t got time for that.

DROPPED

Ao no Kanata no Four Rhythm

The show starts with our lead girl staring up into the sky, pondering “what if people could fly”, before timeskipping ten years to her highschool days. She’s come home, returning to those islands where she grew up, and whaddaya know, people can fly now! Okay, not quite, they’re all wearing Grav Shoes which let them fly around to make travelling across the islands easier for schoolkids and such.

Our lead girl, Asuka, is of course, both terrible at flying and a total ditz. Then there’s bland guy everyman Masaya as the lead male, and Misaki as the second female who sleeps all morning and makes cat puns all afternoon. Oh, and some underclassgirl who won’t let her go.

But what the crux of the show is, is a game calling Flying Cricus using those shoes. You have several buoys, and can score points by touching them or your opponents back. Our teribad lead challenges somebody from a rival school famed for their flying in a “you only need one point to win” match, and then instead of going for the incredibly easy victory by touching a buoy, goes for the back points and manages a miracle manoeuver right at the last!

Add in a bland artstyle (despite all the sea shots and pretty effects), forgettable music, random splashes of fanservice, uninteresting characters, and a pretty boring sport which I already picked holes in, and yep, this show sucks. Next please.

DROPPED

Saijaku Muhai no Bahamut

I’ll admit, the opening of Bahamut had me facepalming. A male highschool kid falls through the roof of some building he’s running across, landing in the girls bathhouse in a lewd scenario and ugh. Also, that school is an all-girl affair, so there’s not going to be any real male support cast to distract from the inevitable harem.

Luckily, it managed to redeem itself a little. Said lead guy is former Prince Lux Arcadia, from the previous empire that fell five years ago. The girl he fell (and felt) onto, who also takes the role as harem leading lady, is current empire Princess Lisesharte (stupid name, I know), who challenges him to a mech battle with his future on the line.

You get to see her use her ubermech against Lux in his regular one, as he refuses to use his special one for reasons that are pretty obvious if you paid attention at the start (a weird black sword, a famous black mech, hmmm), and while she wails on him, she can’t finish him off, and overexerts herself in her rage and desire to win. Somewhat predictably though, before the fight ends some random baddie mech attacks, and the two work together to beat him, with Lux self-sacrificing himself and making Lisha realise he ain’t so bad.

A lot of this show will depend on which aspect becomes dominant. Will the cool mech battles and interesting royal family histories take charge, or will the “omg what a perv” “only guy in an all girl school” drag the show into the trash. As you can tell from my ranking, I’m not betting on Bahamut, but hey, if it proves it’s better than I think, I’ll be happy.

UNLIKELY

Kono Subarashii Sekai ni Shukufuku wo!

Another show which suckered me in with a craptacular opening but then gradually improved. Konosuba opens by showing our lead, Satou Kazuma, a shut-in otaku, getting mown down by a truck and dying heroically while saving a girl. At least, that’s what he thought, until goddess Aqua reveals in the afterlife that he died of shock in really pitiful circumstances, making merry about it with the same crap humour anime adores.

Anyway, turns out that a Devil King is causing chaos in another world and no-one wants to be reincarnated, so they’re sending people from other worlds (such as ours) over there, with any one thing they want. And after all the sass Aqua gave him, he chooses to drag her into the new world, much to her utter dismay.

And with it being very much a RPG world (hi Sword Art, hi Dot Hack), he fits in quite well, knowing where to go and who to speak to. They go through standard early game problems like lacking money, and we see a montage of them labouring away in the starting village, earning their keep, having a good time, puking rainbows… it’s really rather well done. The episode ends with them realising they need to do actual adventuring and monster killing to beat the big bad, so they resolve to make that their next goal.

Yeah, it’s surprisingly alright, even if some of the humour and occasional fanservice is a bit off-putting. I don’t think it’ll evolve much beyond “guy and gals go on adventure to kill bad thing”, but it’s well made, so if you want a video game anime fix this season, this is the one to pick.

POSSIBLY

Ajin

Man, are we here already? The final show! And funnily enough, the show I was most hyped for. I mentioned a while back in one of my monthly manga roundups that Ajin: Demi-Human seemed kinda interesting, and having read the first volume since, it sure as heck is. I’d go as far as to call it my favourite seinen manga, though admittedly I’ve read very few (I’ll get to Berserk one day, promise). And so here is a Knights of Sidonia style Netflix Original honest guv series that has everything going for it.

Except a fucking budget, apparently. Sidonia looked way smoother than this, as in the opening shots you can very clearly notice a lack of inbetweens while the CG cast jerk around. There are some smoother shots later on, but the rough ones are really jarring. The only real standout animation comes in the opening and ending, which are both cleverly done, full of foreshadowing and a bit different to what you usually see in the anime medium.

Okay, the plot. Ajin are essentially immortal people, and very, very rare. Our lead highschool guy, Kei, who only really has intelligence going for him, gets mown down by a truck one day, and we discover, hey, he is an Ajin! And so the hunt is on, with Kei forced to go on the run while reuniting with his childhood friend Kai, as he has no-one else to turn too. That’s pretty much it, with the episode establishing how hated and feared Ajin are by the public.

This is a hella tricky one to rate. The series is well written, and no shit tier subbing or lacklustre animation can really take that away from it… but at the same time, to see a series as awesome as Ajin realised in such a mediocre way is fucking heartbreaking. What I was expecting to be a must watch has become an “eh, maybe later”. All I can do is urge you to check out the manga, and hope they fix up all the rough edges when it hits Netflix for real later this year.

POSSIBLY

From way too kind back to my usual harsh self, as I close out with only two possiblies and two keepers. Dimension W and Shirayukihime join Phantom World, Erased, Rakugo and Durarara as my final six, with 10 reserves, 10 doubtfuls and 13 hell no’s. It’s been hellish at times, but still a blast to shoot my way through a season like this, and this is easily the quickest I’ve ever done it.

So what now? I’ll try and write something up halfway through the season to reveal my thoughts on shows in progress, though with me running Pokémon week on Retro Remastered next month… we’ll see. Thanks for reading, and stay tuned to the blog, as I know our mech overlord Mike has something in the works. Laters~